The Severn Bridge in the United Kingdom (UK) is a suspension bridge spanning the Severn River and Wye River in England and Wales, respectively. The bridge, which replaced the Aust Ferry, is the first road crossing connecting England and Wales. Construction of the bridge started in 1963 and ended in 1966, at an estimated cost of £8 million. Tolls are charged on the Severn Bridge and usually collected in England from motorists traveling to Wales. The bridge’s toll charge is the world’s most expensive toll road per mile, at a cost of £6.70 for personal cars and £ 16.70 for commercial vehicles.
History of Toll Charges
The Severn Bridge was formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 1966. Queen Elizabeth considered the project to be the new dawn for economic development in South Wales. Initial toll charges in 1966 were set at £0.125 and £0.05 for commercial vehicles and personal cars, respectively. Tolls were collected at tollbooths, which had been installed at each end of the bridge, resulting in double taxation.
The first increase in toll charges occurred in 1989 when they were raised to £2 for commercial vehicles and £1 for passage vehicles. This increase in toll charges was in response to the depreciation of British currency and corresponding inflation.
In 1992, toll charges were revised under the Severn Bridge Act 1992, which created three categories of tolls: Category 1 for passenger vehicles with up to 9 seats; Category 2 for commercial vehicles less than 3,500 kg and buses with up to 17 seats; and Category 3 for commercial vehicles over 3,500 kg.
Every year since 1992, the tolls have been increased in response to inflation and tax laws, such as the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT). As of January 2018, toll costs per mile reached a high of £6.70 for cars and £16.70 for commercial vehicles, which are the most expensive charges in the world.
Toll charges were initially paid in cash, but drivers without cash at the time of crossing would receive an invoice from the tollbooth operator, which had to be paid by post by a given date. Credit and debit card payments were introduced in 2010 during the Ryder Cup. However, cash remains the recommended form of payment in order to reduce traffic build-up and delays in the event of a system failure.
The cycling paths and footpaths running on both sides of the crossing do not require toll charges. Motorcycles and individuals with accessibility needs are exempt from the tolls but must stop at tollbooths for verification purposes.
Public Opinion on the Abolition of Tolls
During the presentation of the UK budget in 2016, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that tolls would be slashed by half in 2018. In 2017, the Welsh Secretary proposed the abolition of the tolls by December 2018, stating that abolition would encourage tourism, business, and investment, thus boosting the economy of England and South Wales by £100 million annually.
The increasing toll charges have led to a decline in the number of people using the crossing, thus reducing its revenue by a considerable amount. Economists suggest that the toll charges be lowered as a way of reducing the tax burden on taxpayers.